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Edge of Dark Water Hardcover – March 27, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 112 customer reviews

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Hardcover, March 27, 2012
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Editorial Reviews


"A cast of unforgettable characters....a terrific read. From its pages waft memories of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, and even As I Lay Dying with its journey to lay a soul to rest. When I reached the final page, something happened that I can't remember ever happening with a book I've read for a review. I wanted to read it again."―Boston Globe

"A charming Gothic tale...as funny and frightening as anything that could have been dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm--or Mark Twain."―New York Times Book Review

"Reading Joe Lansdale is like listening to a favorite uncle who just happens to be a fabulous storyteller. This book deals with dark and strange material, but it is hugely appealing as narrated in the first person by young Sue Ellen, who shines."―Dean Koontz

"A doozy of a read, the kind of book we call an 'all nighter'...It's that kind of great, and it's pure-blood Lansdale, crammed to bursting with plot twists that recall the snaky bends of the Sabine River...This sucker moves...It's our favorite book of the year so far, and one of Lansdale's best, ever."―Austin Chronicle

"The strongest, truest, and most pitch-perfect narration since Huck Finn's. Marvelous and terrifying, EDGE OF DARK WATER is the result of real genius at work. A masterpiece."―Dan Simmons, author of The Terror and Drood

"An ambitious, quietly grieving portrait of racism in Texas in the 1930s."―New York Times

"For those new to Lansdale's work, this novel will serve as a good intro: entertaining, eerie and soaked with the East Texas period atmosphere Lansdale owns like no other writer....Along the river chase, readers will pick up on nods to homer, Dickey, Twain and others, but the brooding East Texas atmosphere is all Lansdale: the specter of Skunk is like something out of a horror movie; man and nature both provide plenty of thrills and chills; the mystery of who killed May Lynn is given just enough attention; and Sue Ellen's precocious teen wisdom and bumpkin delivery provides the laughs....Joe R. Lansdale could fall into the Sabine River at its filthiest point and still come up dripping nothing but storytelling mojo."―The Dallas Morning News

"EDGE OF DARK WATER describes a trip downriver that is one-half Huck Finn, one-half Deliverance, and entirely Joe Lansdale. If you aren't familiar with the work of this true American original, and master of hillbilly noir, climb in the boat and hang on for dear life: the water is rough."―Joe Hill, author of the New York Times bestsellers Horns and Heart-Shaped Box

"Joe Lansdale has long been one of our finest and most difficult to classify writers. You can call his writing supernatural, horror, crime, or plain Southern, as long as you remember to call it great. Always a generous storyteller, in EDGE OF DARK WATER he offers a beautifully spun tale of life in the sticks, friendship and mortality, and tells it with the wit, humor and pure-dee power we've come to expect of him."―Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone

"Nonstop adventures that edify, terrify and deepen the bond between Sue Ellen and Jinx. A highly entertaining tour de force."―Kirkus Reviews

"Edgar-winner Lansdale channels Mark Twain in this chillingly atmospheric stand-alone set in Depression-era East Texas...Lansdale's perfect ear for regional dialogue and ability to create palpable suspense lift this above the pack."―The Washington Examiner

"Joe Lansdale always transports me. In EDGE OF DARK WATER, he takes me to the mysterious brooding landscape of Twain and Faulkner, with a compelling twist that is all Lansdale."―David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of First Blood and Creepers

"A coming of age story peopled with original and fascinating blood-and-bones characters. A chillingly atmospheric tale of good and evil and adolescent angst. EDGE OF DARK WATER has all the potential of becoming a classic, read by generations to come."―New York Journal of Books

"Joe Lansdale is one of the dark kings of modern mystery fiction, a master of the genre. His name deserves to be whispered with the greats."―John Connolly

"Joe R. Lansdale's fellow Texans would call Joe a 'straight shooter.' That's what makes his writing so good-no BS involved. Joe's work is alternately scary, funny as hell, disturbing, but always (and most importantly) memorable."―Bruce Campbell

"A storyteller in the great American tradition of Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain."―Boston Globe

"Joe R. Lansdale has a folklorist's eye for telling detail and a front-porch raconteur's sense of pace."―The New York Times Book Review

"One of the greatest yarn spinners of his generation: fearless, earthy, original, manic and dreadfully funny."―Dallas Morning News

From the Back Cover

May Lynn didn't have a mama anymore, cause her mama had drowned herself in the Sabine River. She had gone down with some laundry to soak, and instead wrapped a shirt around her head and walked in until the water went over her. When she came up, she wasn't alive anymore, but she still had that shirt around her noggin.
May Lynn's daddy was someone who only came home when he got tired of being any other place. We didn't even know if he knew his daughter was missing. May Lynn used to say after her mama drowned herself her daddy was never the same. Said she figured it was because the laundry around her mother's head had been his favorite snap-pocket shirt. That's true love for you. Worse, her brother, Jake, who she was close to, was dead as of a short time back, and there wasn't even a family dog to miss her.
The day after we found her, May Lynn was boxed up in a cheap coffin and buried on a warm morning in the pauper section of the Marvel Creek Cemetery next to a dried patch of weeds with seed ticks clinging to them, and I suspect some chiggers too small to see. Her mother and brother were buried in the same graveyard, but they hadn't ended up next to one another. Up the hill was where the people with money lay. Down here was the free dirt, and even if you was kin to someone, you got scattered--you went in anyplace where there was room to dig a hole. I'd heard there was many a grave on top of another, for need of space.
The constable ruled on matters by saying she had been killed by a person or persons unknown, which was something I could have figured out for him. He said it was most likely a drifter or drifters who had come upon her by the river. I guess they had been carrying a sewing machine under their arm.
He didn't make any effort to search out her murderer or find out why she was down there. For that matter, there wasn't even a doctor or nobody that looked at her to be sure exactly how she was killed or if she had been fooled with. Nobody cared but me and Terry and Jinx.
The service was conducted by a local preacher. He said a few words that might have sounded just as insincere if they had they been spoken over the body of a distant cousin's pet mouse that had died of old age.
When he was through talking, a couple of colored men put the plain box down in the ground using ropes, then started shoveling dirt in the hole. Outside of the colored men, and the preacher and the seed ticks, we had been the only ones at the funeral, if you could call it that.
"You'd think they was just taking out the trash, way that preacher hurried up," Jinx said, after they left.
"Way they saw it," I said, "that was exactly what they was doing. Taking out the trash."
Jinx was my age. She had her hair tied in pigtails that stood out from her head like plaited ropes of wire. She had a sweet face, but her eyes seemed older, like she was someone's ancient grandma stuffed inside a kid. She wore a dyed blue flour-sack dress that had some of the old print faintly poking through, and she was barefoot. Terry had on some new shoes, and he had gotten from somewhere a man's black tie. It was tied in a big knot and pulled up tight to his neck, making him look like a bag that had been knotted near the top. He had enough oil in his black hair to grease a truck axle, and it still wasn't quite enough to hold his wild mane down. His face was dark from the sun, and his blue eyes were shiny as chunks of the sky. None of us was happy with what had happened, but he was taking it especially hard; his eyes were red from crying.
"No one will make a concerted effort to discover what happened to her," Terry said. "I think a search for the truth is out of the question."
I loved to hear Terry talk, because he didn't sound like no one else I knew. He hadn't dropped out of school like me, as I was having problems with it being so far and no way to get there and I didn't like it much anyhow. My mother, who was pretty good educated, didn't like that I had quit, but she didn't get out of bed to make much of a complaint against it; that might have required her putting on her shoes.
Terry liked school. Even the math part. His mother had been a schoolteacher and gave him extra learning. His father had died when he was young, and as of recent his mother had taken up with and married an oilman named Harold Webber. Terry didn't get along with him even a little bit. Webber made Terry's mother quit teaching school to be home with the kids, and then she started a seamstress business, but he made her kill that, too, and toss out all her goods, because he believed a husband took care of his wife and she shouldn't work, even if she liked the work she did. In the end it was all about the same anyhow, as jobs, especially for women, had become as rare as baptized rattlesnakes.
Since that marriage, Terry had a look in his eye like a rabbit that was about to run fast and far.
Jinx could read and write and cipher some, same as me, but she hadn't learned it in school. Coloreds didn't have a school in our parts, and she had been taught by her daddy, who had gone up north to work for a while and learned to read there. He said it was better in the north for coloreds in some ways because people acted like they liked you, even if they didn't. But he come back because he missed his family and being in the South, since he knew right off who the sons of bitches was; there wasn't as much guesswork involved in figuring who was who.
But when times got bad, that didn't keep him from heading north again. He hated to do it, he told Jinx, and meant it, but he had to go up there and make some money and mail it back to her and her mother.
None of us was happy in East Texas. We all wanted out, but seemed stuck to our spots like rooted trees. When I thought about getting out I couldn't imagine much beyond the wetlands and the woods. Except for Hollywood. I could imagine that on account of May Lynn talking about it all the time. She made it sound pretty good, even though she had never been there.
With her dead, a lot of hopes I had were gone. I always figured May Lynn just might go off to Hollywood and be a movie star, and then she'd come home and take us back with her. I never could figure why she would do that, or what we might do out there, but it beat thinking I was just gonna grow up and marry some fellow with tobacco in his cheek and whiskey on his breath who would beat me at least once a week and maybe make me keep my hair up.
None of this kind of thinking mattered, though, because May Lynn didn't become a star. Truth was, as of late, we hadn't known her very well ourselves. By the time she showed up in the water wired to that Singer sewing machine, I reckon I hadn't seen her for a month. I figured it was similar for Terry and Jinx.
Jinx said she thought May Lynn had come of the age to think hanging with colored kids might not lead to stardom. Jinx said she didn't hold it against her, but I had doubts about that. Jinx could hold a grudge.
As to what happened to May Lynn, I had ideas about that. Nobody loved a picture show the way she did, and she'd hitch a ride with anyone if they'd get her into town on Saturdays to catch a show. Men were always quick to pick her up. Me, I'd have had to lay down in the middle of the road and play dead to have them stop, and even then they might have run over me, same as they would a dead possum. Could be May Lynn got a ride with the wrong person; an angry Singer sewing machine salesman. It was a stretch, but I figured it was better detective work than Constable Higgins had done.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books; 1 edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316188433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316188432
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #880,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dale on March 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title of this review describes my position while reading most of this book. I have read all of Joe R. Lansdale's books and stories with various degrees of approval and I must say that this novel is at the top of a very large and wonderful heap. Mr. Lansdale, hisownself, says this book may be his best and I am not going to argue that point.

He writes about bad people doing bad things but they are always countered with good people who grew up in the same environment but were able to rise above their upbringing. This message cannot be used often enough. We live in an era when people want to blame others for their plight but Mr. Lansdale writes of folks who work hard to do the right thing and better themselves in the process and he does it with humor, suspense, and sometimes pure horror. His characters are not perfect. Each of them has flaws but those flaws make the characters real and help us to identify with them. You care about Sue Ellen and the others on the raft. You feel their terror and their hope. You inwardly cheer when the evil folks get their due. He fills their story with more twists than the river that serves as the backdrop of the story has.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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I've searched out Joe R. Lansdale ever since I saw the movie Bubba Ho-Tep. I've read the entire Hap & Leonard series and several other novels and "Edge of Dark Water" is the best of all as a page-turning story. Sue Ellen, Jinx, Terry & Sue Ellen's mother find themselves fleeing down the Sabine River in east Texas on a raft with a lard can full of the ashes of a murdered friend and another full of stolen money. They are pursued by various family members, acquaintances, a crooked constable and Skunk, the best killer since Anton Chiggurh from "No Country for Old Men". The book is narrated by Sue Ellen, a smart-aleck, wise cracking 16-year-old. They meet people on the river and have close encounters with their pursuers. You can compare this to "Huckleberry Finn", the Odyssey and the books of Robert Lewis Tayloy ["The Travels of Jamie McPheeters", "Journey to Matecumbe" and "Two Roads To Guadalupe"]. I've given this book 5 stars because I just fell in love with it.
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Joe Lansdale's new novel, Edge of Dark Water, can be characterized as Huckleberry Finn on steroids (an easily imagined image for today's sports fans), but a more apt categorization of the book is one author Joe Hill uses for it: hillbilly noir. I love that term and the image it creates.

Set in rural East Texas, an area Joe Lansdale calls home, this depression-era novel recounts the very personal quest that16-year-old Sue Ellen, her alcoholic mother, and Sue Ellen's two closet friends embark upon, one that involves perilous journey along the path of the treacherous Sabine River. Sue Ellen, Terry (the town "sissy"), and Jinx (a teenaged black girl) are close despite the prejudice and rigid segregation of the times, and they are determined to spread the ashes of the town's recently murdered beauty queen in Hollywood where she had always dreamed of becoming a film star. Sue Ellen's mother, needing to flee her old life before it kills her, insists on going with them.

Lansdale is quick to set the tone of Edge of Dark Water. The novel opens on the banks of the Sabine where Sue Ellen's father, who has decided that electrocuting fish is too much work, is busy poisoning them so that Sue Ellen and Terry can drag them out of the river for him. When local beauty May Lynn's bloated body is dragged to the bank from the bottom of the river, things take a nasty turn that will have the reader rapidly turning pages for the rest of the novel.

Just as Sue Ellen and her two friends are wavering on following through with their plans to go to Hollywood, the decision is snatched from their hands and they have to run for their lives, May Lynn's ashes in tow.
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Joe Lansdale has said he thinks Edge of Dark Water is probably his best novel to date. I can't say it is or isn't. You see, I'm prejudiced. I've long held The Bottoms by Lansdale to be the best novel I've ever read. It's certainly Joe's #1 book to date. There were so many wonderful things in the novel that spoke to my heart as a human being that I couldn't see it being replaced. Edge of Dark Water, however, is trying its best to push The Bottoms from its high perch, and it just might succeed.

What's the Edge of Dark Water about?

Joe Hill (author of Horns and The Heart-Shaped Box) called it a cross between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Deliverance. He wasn't far wrong on that brief description.

When Mae Lyn, the prettiest girl in the county, is found dead in the Sabine River with a Singer sewing machine tied around her ankles, her three closest friends--maybe her only friends--decide to dig up her body, burn it, and take the ashes to Hollywood. This is where Mae Lyn always dreamed of going, hoping she would one day become famous. Her friends--Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry--all have their different personalities. Sue Ellen, though pretty, is basically a tomboy. Jinx is black and isn't afraid to speak her mind, even if it gets her into trouble. Remember, this is taking place during the Great Depression. Terry is a handsome young fellow, but everybody considers him to be a sissy. In the South, during the Depression, being a sissy is considered worse than being black. Still, these kids love each other as close friends do, even if they sometimes get on each other's nerves.
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